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Monday, July 19, 2004 - Page updated at 11:02 A.M.
By Misha Berson
There are two reasons to see "The Door in the Floor," a languorous, fitfully compelling screen adaptation of the first chunk of John Irving's best-selling novel "A Widow for One Year."
The first reason: the accomplished performance by Jeff Bridges, one of our best under-sung actors, as successful children's author Ted Cole a tricky role Bridges handles with shrewd complexity.
The second? Real-estate lust.
Anyone wondering why East Coasters are gaga for the Hamptons, on Long Island, will get a clue gazing at the casually upscale spread where the film is set. The spacious, shingled Dutch colonial home, with its sweeping lawns and ocean vistas, belongs to Ted, his wife, Marion (a wanly melancholic Kim Basinger), and their 4-year-old daughter, Ruth (Elle Fanning).
It's also a kind of shrine to the Coles' twin sons, a pair of golden boys whose accidental deaths in their teenage prime have haunted and paralyzed Marion for years, and made little Ruth pretty weird.
Irving's "A Widow for One Year" covers three significant acts in Ruth's life. But "The Door in the Floor" (scripted by the movie's director, Tod Williams) centers on Act 1, the breakup of the Coles' long marriage due to prolonged grief and guilt, Ted's chronic infidelities and Marion's affair with Eddie (Jon Foster), a teenager who spends a summer as Ted's so-called assistant.
Ted, who wrestles with his own fears and compulsions, is the most engaging character on hand as well as the most potentially repellent.
In Bridges' hands, he's a rumpled, bohemian charmer and genuinely loving father. His analyses of Eddie's writing attempts and Marion's chronic pain are spot-on, yet compassionate.
But Bridges doesn't shy away from Ted's manipulativeness and misogyny either. He's a rascal with the older women he seduces and dumps (Mimi Rogers plays one of his scores), the young girls he flatters and woos and even with the initially naive Eddie.
The coupling between Eddie and Basinger's somnambulant Marion transforms them, allegedly. But puppy love and depressive grief don't produce sexual sizzle not here, at least.
The affair upsets the balance of power between the Coles. But it's hard to invest much in their marriage anyway. And flashbacks to their boys' fatal accident don't raise the stakes much.
"The Door in the Floor" has "prestige indie project" written all over it. And if Bridges wins acclaim, it will be well deserved.
But you have to wonder about a movie that leaves you with the wrong burning question. As in: if the Coles divorce, who gets dibs on their amazing Hamptons pad?
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org
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